Monday, November 16, 2009

Couponing 101

Considering plunging in to the world of couponing? Many people have heard about the savings that you can receive by matching up coupons and sales but are overwhelmed by the thought of even starting.

What if you knew that you could save your family upwards of 80% on groceries? What if you could afford a vacation for your family? What if you could give over and above what you have been? What if spending a little time saved your family from mom having to work or dad getting a second job? Would it be worth it to you then?

As my children have gotten older, as I am sure that you've also found, they eat a lot more! I can barely keep up! Seems as if I get groceries in and they are gone so quickly. Couponing has made a huge difference for our family.

The first step in couponing is finding coupons. The Sunday paper is a wonderful source, I would recommend getting at least one, and maybe even three or four if there are a lot of coupons one week. Lately, at least here, there are have been coupons in Friday's paper too, in ads for specific grocery stores. Other ways of finding coupons are "blinkies," those little boxes that spit out coupons in the grocery store isles (always take a few, you never know when you'll need them!), on packages , on tear pads in grocery stores, and the biggest one, online. Red Plum and Smart Source are good places to start. You will find that some really serious couponers will even buy coupons online from others at a fraction of their worth (say a 50c coupon for 5c each) because they need them. I have yet to do this, but I understand how this could be worthwhile (more on this).
(My real life coupon organizer)

You'll need a method of organizing all of these little pieces of paper too. Here is one way that many people do it, and here is another, the way I do. I like the shoe box sized plastic box with a lid, it fits in the front part of the cart with my purse and I take it whenever I shop. Always take your coupons with you when you go out, you might have an opportunity to stop at a store when you are close by. I can't even tell you all of the times that I have found unexpected marked down items for free or nearly free with a coupon that I was able to get just because the coupons were in the car. Along with coupons, I keep a pencil, a pair of scissors (for cutting out coupons in grocery store sale flyers) and a calculator. Very necessary items! It is also necessary to look through all of your coupons each month to check for expired coupons. I do it at the beginning of each month. This is time consuming and no fun, in my opinion, but it's better than being at the check stand and realizing that your coupons, and therefore your whole plan will not work. Even worse is a checker handing back expired coupons!

Knowing what is a good deal is a big part of couponing. Many people keep a price book to keep track of what is a good price. This is often a small notebook with one item per page and grocery stores down the side. Say you are looking at peanut butter, which is advertised for $1.50 per 18 oz. You check the peanut butter page on your price book, where you've written down how much you've seen it for per ounce. You keep track per ounce because if you are at a warehouse club like Costco or Sam's, you aren't going to find it in an 18 oz. size, but it may be a better deal. Don't forget the dollar store when making your price book. If I can get Colgate or Crest toothpaste at Dollar Tree for $1, I know that finding in on sale for $2.99 with a dollar coupon is not a good deal. Know who has the cheapest price on everything. Each area is different.

(My real life basement pantry)

That brings me to the next topic, stocking up. When you coupon you often get a lot of one item each time you shop. One week you may get a case of tomato soup and ten loaves of bread and the next week, 100 jars of peanut butter or five cases of tuna fish. (Don't let these numbers scare you!) Many people wonder how in the world you plan a menu for the week this way. You don't. You stock your pantry. (You can do this with more perishable foods too, see a previous post here about what I did with lots of potatoes, how to dehydrate produce here, making your own extracts here or my many posts on canning, some are here, here or here). Different things are on sale each month and different things are highlighted each season. When it was near the forth of July or Labor Day, there were lots of sales on ketchup, mustard and mayo. The coupons that came out around these months reflected the season, so there were many for these items. When I saw that they were at their best price (here's where your price book comes in) I bought all I needed for the year (pictured above). This takes some trial and error, because how is it that you know how much relish your family needs for an entire year? If I don't know, I guesstimate, for example, I use relish on hot dogs (we eat them about 1 x per month, less in the winter), hamburgers (about the same) and tuna (about once a week). I figure out how much of a jar we use for each and buy accordingly. If my pantry is stocked with these things, I don't have to worry about them again and can concentrate on items on sale right now. In October I bought a lot of canned tomatoes. This month it is olives, flour, sugars, chocolate chips and other baking items.

Even though I generally don't do once a month cooking, I enjoy listening to Once A Month Mom's monthly pod cast. (Here it is for November.) She highlights what will be on sale for the month, I like to know what's ahead.

So, once you get coupons and have them organized, you have to figure out the best way to use them. Be diligent about looking at your local sales flyers. We get them here on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, I sit down with a piece of notebook paper and a pencil, the ads and my coupons. I look through the ads to see what is on sale. I do often buy the loss leader ad items even without a coupon because they are at the best price they will be all year - I especially like the ones with no limit! I don't have any qualms about going more than once in a week to max out a limit on an item, or even doing more than one transaction to get that price over and over again (if the coupon says per transaction, you can do this, if it says per shopping trip or per family, do honor that too). If there are other things on sale, I match coupons with the sale items for a great price. If I find something that I plan to buy, I write it under the heading of that grocery store, i.e. Safeway, 3 - 18 oz. jars of Skippy peanut butter and if I have a coupon, I will write a Q next to it so I know that I planned to use a coupon with it. Then the coupon goes in to the store's envelope in my coupon organizer. When I get to the store I pull out my list (that I also keep in my plastic organizer) and the coupons from the store's envelope. I know just where I am going and what I am doing when I get there.

Stacking coupons is a way to get an even better deal. This is where you use a store's coupon and a manufacturer's coupon and a sale to get the best deal possible. Many stores like Albertson's, Safeway and Walgreens put out coupons in their own ad and then if you have coupons for that item too, you can use both. You cannot use two manufacturer's coupons or two store coupons - be careful here and check to be sure because stores like Rite Aid and sometimes Fred Meyer will put manufacturer's coupons in their store ads. Although this is perfectly legal, one of my Albertson's stores always give me a huge hassle about it, so I just don't go to that store anymore. I've heard that Target also has issues with stacking, but I'm sure it depends on your checker and the managers on duty. Always check the store's coupon policy on line if there is a question. I've had a lot of experience where the employee didn't know what they should or shouldn't be doing.

(My laundry room stock pile)

One more tip along these lines, is that if you have a buy one get one free deal, you can use two coupons. A great example of this is a deal that's going on right now at Albertson's. If you buy one Sara Lee pie, you get another Sara Lee pie and two cartons of Breyer's ice cream free. Even though you are only buying one pie, you can use two Sara Lee pie coupons and two Breyer's ice cream coupons. What a deal! If you knew this deal was coming (many sites will let you know ahead of time about an upcoming deal) and really wanted to take advantage of it (it was something you bought or used often) you either save coupons for this or buy them online as mentioned before.

That brings me to store matching programs. Walmart will match an advertised price for items. You have to have the ad with you most of the time, but if you show the clerk that bananas are currently on sale for .39c a pound at another store, they will give you the same price. Although it isn't advertised, Fred Meyer will accept competitor's coupons. Bring in a store coupon for an item, even a store brand, and they will give you the item or their store brand for the coupon price. It really pays to know what your store's policies are. These types of matching programs are especially helpful when you have a store that runs out of the ad often. It's ok to get rain checks for later (put those in your grocery store's envelope in your organizer so you don't forget about them!) but when it's a Catalina coupon, it's frustrating.

Catalina coupons are coupons that print out after you've paid for your items. They are sometimes advertised and sometimes not. For example, they use these a lot at Albertson's and Walgreens. Albertson's will have an ad that says if you buy five specific Pillsbury items (this is from this week) you will get a $5 coupon to use on your next purchase. If you do it right (don't forget to match all of those items with coupons!!!) then you will get your $5 coupon when you finish your transaction, with your receipt. Walgreens will often have an item that will be free in the end, an example of this is buy one Dove body wash and get an $8.99 coupon for your next purchase. If the body wash is normally $8.99 and you have a $2/1 coupon, you will be making money on the transaction. This is called "overage" on many couponing sites. Catalina coupons are not good for long, they expire quickly. For this reason, I like to do a second transaction using that Catalina for other items I need, using that Catalina I just received.

(Both of these are the stock of linen closet supplies)

It's helpful to check out the websites that are out there like A Full Cup or Fat Wallet or Hot Coupon World because many times other people will see or figure out great deals that are easy to miss. I like Money Saving Mom a lot too, she's great about keeping you abreast about all sorts of deals, not just groceries.

You will begin to have such a stockpile that not only will you have enough for your family that you won't have to worry about what will happen if there is job loss or a tight month or two, but you will be able to give to others in need. This stock pile comes in handy for a friend who has a baby or crisis in the family, Operation Christmas Child, your local food bank or when you want to give hygiene items to your local shelter. It is also a wonderful feeling to be able to, instead of running to the grocery store when you need a can of this or that, run to your own little "grocery store". The savings are tremendous.

Although couponing seems like a huge effort, it pays off in so many ways. As the mother of the house and the helpmeet to your husband, you will be serving your family by your hard work and diligence. Keep in mind that they aren't the only ones that you are serving: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. " Colossians 3:23-24

May the Lord bless your efforts richly!


Lorentzen Family said...

Wow! What great tips, Jennifer... I probibly need to start doing this, but I am one of those that think it's a bit overwelming... You inspire me! SMILE

Teresa said...

have you been inside my brain lately? I was just going through this very thought process(how to do couponing) Thank you for sharing! It was great to see you at the meeting the other night!

Waterdreamer said...

I can't wait till I have the space to start doing this!! Right now in my little apartment its hard but when we move into a house in the near future I will keep this in mind :)

Shevy said...

I think couponing is much more effective in the US than Canada, unfortunately.

For one thing, a big component in most of the ultra-serious couponer's arsenals seems to be using double or triple coupon days (which don't exist in Canada).

The things I've most often and most successfully used coupons for are disposable diapers and dog food.

Given that I only buy foods with kosher supervision brand name coupons often don't work for me because they aren't for the brands I need to buy. (Of course, when they are that's great!)

One suggestion I have though is to check your coupons shortly *before* the end of the month. That way, if something is about to expire you can make a point of trying to use the coupon up.

My other advice to folks just starting to stock up is to be really realistic about how much your family will use in a given time period and to check the "best by" dates on all the products. You're not saving money if you end up with 6 containers of mayo past their expiration date (no matter how cheap they were)!

And I love the pictures of how organized you are!